Plant of the Week
Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata)
By Charlie McDonald
Banana yucca is one of about 40 yucca species, all of which are native to the New World. Most yuccas have dry hard fruits, but the fruits of banana yucca are fleshy and succulent. They look roughly like short fat green bananas, thus the name. These fruits were a traditional food of the Apache and Navajo. They were prepared by roasting or baking, stripping out the seeds, pounding the remaining flesh into a pulp, forming the pulp into flat cakes, and sun-drying them for later use. The resulting product is said to be nutritious, sweet, and delicious. The fruits were often picked before maturity and ripened off the plant to keep wildlife from eating them before they could be harvested.
Besides food, yuccas have many other traditional uses. The leaf blades can be woven into baskets, used to make brushes, or with the fleshy leaf tissue removed the remaining stiff fibers can be made into a combination needle and thread. The roots are prized as a natural soap.
Yuccas are useful landscape plants in the Southwest. They are evergreen and have beautiful flowers in the spring. They are good barrier plants because the leaf tips are needle-sharp. Propagation is easy from seeds, rhizomes, stem cuttings, or offsets from the side of established plants.
Yuccas are the State flower of New Mexico.
Banana yucca plants growing in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains on the Cibola National Forest. Photo by Charlie McDonald.